What is it about the academic race that makes parents so stressed?

Some will point to the fast-paced, competitive society we live in today, in which standards are high and everybody is clamouring for the top spot. Children are under great pressure to obtain flawless grades—on top of stellar extra-curricular achievements—to get into better schools so that they can ultimately secure better jobs later.

Others will point to schools continually raising their academic standards. “The maths is so hard—I don’t even understand my daughter’s maths problem sums any more!” says Dinesh, father of eight-year-old Julia.

Still other parents say the methods of assessment make it harder for students to study on their own. “The exams test things that are not taught in class. That’s why we need so much tuition,” says Su Ching, mother of twelve-year-old Elliot.

There is no denying that most of us can do little to change the society we find ourselves living in. These are significant external factors that contribute to our stress level.

But the Bible points out that the key factor is internal: our sinful hearts.


Help! I’m Stressed about My Child’s Education

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Is Education Our Idol?

They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them
and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf.
(Exodus 32:8)

When we think of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf they made, we may say to ourselves, “I would never bow down to a golden calf!” But what if the golden calves of today are not visible? What if the idols are lurking inside our hearts and minds?

The things we turn into idols may not necessarily be bad things in themselves—they could be good things that we have turned into ultimate things. They could be legitimate goals that we have turned into ultimate goals.

There is always a struggle inside us; our sinful, idolatrous hearts are prone to taking a good endeavour—like education or wanting a bright future for our children—and turning it into our main goal, to be pursued at all costs.

When education is our idol, we will be disproportionately angry when our children fail and overly proud when they succeed.

When education is our idol, we will be unbearably insecure or overly confident when we compare our children to others.

When education is our idol, we will make it our number one priority in life to ensure our children succeed, even if it means compromising spiritual priorities.

We cannot serve both our idols and God. Jesus made it clear that we cannot serve two masters: “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (In Matthew 6:24).

Has education—and our desire for our children to succeed—become our idol?

Building on Jesus’ fundamental point that we cannot serve both God and money, Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Money is a great servant but a bad master.” We could also say this: “Education is a great servant but a bad master.”

Has education—and our desire for our children to succeed—become our idol?

It is easy for our hearts to persuade us that we do not have any idols at all. Yet, Scripture reminds us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).

God repeatedly calls His people to flee idolatry and worship Him only. This is a lifelong process and it starts with us asking God to reveal our own sins to us, as David did in Psalm 139:23–24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Can We See Education Differently?

Although we may stop turning education into an idol, the academic race, the school system, and exams will not disappear—unfortunately! But it will transform the way we see education, and how we deal with these stresses.

Education gives us the precious opportunity to marvel at God’s creation and God the Creator.

As Psalm 19:1–2 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”

All academic subjects provide an opportunity to learn more about God.

Through languages, we learn about the diversity of races and cultures God has allowed to flourish around the world.

When we turn education into the pursuit of exam grades, we lose the opportunity to help our children examine God’s creation and link it back to Him.

Through maths and science, we learn about the orderliness of creation and how it has been masterfully engineered and fine-tuned.

The study of plants and animals points to God’s creative handiwork.

The study of history points to both the dignity and sinfulness of Man. And the list goes on.

God is a visual artist, musician, mathematician, scientist, engineer, and so much more. In short, education is not just about grades—it’s about God.

When we turn education into the pursuit of exam grades, we lose the opportunity to help our children examine God’s creation and link it back to Him.

When we see studying as merely lessons to sit through, we lose the chance to give our children the best lesson of all: that God is the Lord of all creation, and indeed, the Lord of the academic race.

As we challenge ourselves to look at our children’s education differently and ask the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts, perhaps you might consider asking yourself these questions:

  • What are the idols gripping my heart in the academic race?
  • What can I do to turn from my idols and submit daily to God?
  • In what ways might I be communicating to my children the idea that education is all about scoring in exams?
  • How can I have more meaningful conversations with my children, and help them to see that education is about God’s creation and God himself?


Extracted and adapted from Help! I’m Stressed About My Child’s Education © 2019 Our Daily Bread Ministries


Ruth Wan-Lau has spent over a decade working in publishing. She is a children’s book author who has written over 30 books, including the well-known Timmy and Tammy series. Ruth and her husband are blessed with three amazing children.
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